In the summer of 1995, poor Kevin Costner was getting destroyed by the media for starring in and producing the film Waterworld, which had an estimated budget of 180 million dollars. Movie-goers had never seen a movie with such an enormous budget and had made up their minds that the movie was going to be terrible because there was an idea that no movie should cost that much to make. Accompanied by negative buzz and critics who deemed the movie mediocre, Waterworld went on to only gross $20 million in its opening weekend and is considered one of the biggest flops of all time, even though it actually turned a profit with its overseas box office.
Remember the rest of the world loves our crap, like Baywatch or Urkel. I did go see Waterworld that summer and even though it wasn’t great I wasn’t going to form an opinion about a film just based on how much money the studio spent to make it. Little did we know, Mr. Costner was paving the way with his box office dud for studios to open their wallets for huge summer tent pole movies that makes a $180 million look like a modest price.
While The Hunger Games continues to dominate the box office going over $300 million, I began to look ahead to this summer’s batch of blockbusters and the prices for some of these movies are staggering. This summer we will have six movies opening with budgets of over $200 million. The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, The Amazing Spiderman, Men in Black 3, Battleship, and Total Recall all carry huge price tags. The Dark Knight Rises leads the list with a budget of $250 million and The Avengers is right behind at $225 million. I can guarantee you that both of these movies will make their money back and then some. After that the list starts to look like a few financial gambles and some bombs waiting to happen.
Sony decided to reboot everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spiderman, and they did that so Disney couldn’t get their white-gloved hands on the property rights. Although the question is: is it too soon for a reboot? It seems like yesterday when I walked out of Spiderman 3 with utter disappointment – and now The Amazing Spiderman. I think as long as the story is good, people will show up but it won’t have a great deal of time to cash in since The Dark Knight Rises opens a few weeks later.
Men in Black 3 is even more of a risk. Men in Black 2 was an unworthy sequel and I didn’t see anyone who was clamoring for a third except for Will Smith. Now, rumors have swirled that the script was written when the movie was shot and Tommy Lee Jones admitted himself he had no idea what the third installment was about. I was puzzled when I heard that Men and Black 3 was not opening on 4th of July weekend. Here I thought that Will Smith was the king of Fourth of July weekend at the box office. So why is this movie which cost over $200 million to make not opening the weekend of the fourth? That’s definitely a red flag and the answer is simple…this movie is going to be a mess and the studio people know that poor reviews in the heart of the summer will kill its value.
The last two films on the list have bombastic failure written all over them. Battleship has to be one of the most ill-conceived movies ever. What’s next Twister or Connect Four the movie? Movie fans have already formed their opinions that Battleship will sink at the box office just from the fact that it’s based on a board game. Taylor Kitsch will be the one feeling the pain after this future dud opens because he will have starred in two $200 million flops with John Carter and Battleship this year alone.
Then there is Total Recall which has a slew of problem going against it. First off, it’s a remake of a beloved mans movie, starring the former Governor of California. I remember my dad, probably like a lot of other dads let me see Total Recall in all its violent, mutant triple-breasted, rated R awesomeness when I was in seventh grade. I loved every second of it, but that was a long time ago and there is a whole generation of movie-goers who have never even seen the classic sci-fi film. Plus, the word is that the remake sticks closer to the book and does not take place on Mars where all the great action took place in the original film. Also, timing is going to hurt this movie too. It opens August 5, so it will have a limited amount of time to make up for the hefty price tag. Also it could still feel the effect of The Dark Knights Rises at the box office. To further complicate things, The Expendables 2 will go after that same male audience and will open two weeks later, which will hurt Total Recall’s momentum – if there is any. This movie will probably be better than Battleship and even MIB 3, but it will have a hard time recouping all the money.
So the moral of the story is if you want to make money you have to spend money, but one should spend it wisely. Visionaries such as James Cameron and Christopher Nolan have proven that if you double down with costs on a project you can be rewarded handsomely. The problem is directors like that aren’t just hanging around studio back lots waiting to direct a big screen version of Candyland. You wouldn’t want to give a $200 million movie to Andrew Stanton (John Carter) or Len Wiseman (Total Recall). Creditability is everything and you need a well-established and well-known director to helm these massive projects so a $200 million movie doesn’t look like it was made with my iMovie at home.
Finally one more piece of advice from the Big Potato. If you take your pricey project to a big name director and they turn it down, odds are your movie isn’t worth the budget you want to spend.